We encounter many kinds of conflicts in different settings throughout our lives. Some are personal, involving the inner critic. Others are interpersonal, where we disagree with one another for some reason. Conflicts may also involve groups or organisations we belong to, while others are commercial, legal, or political matters, some of which are played out globally. How well we manage those conflicts, de-escalating them as they arise, often determines the level of success we can achieve.
Conflicts can quickly escalate when something is said or done which causes offence, or which doesn’t meet our expectations. De-escalation is a skill involving many aspects, but its foundation is the intention we bring to the task. Having a clear intention to achieve some form of ‘Win:Win’ outcome is usually the best way to secure an acceptable resolution of a conflict.
The ‘Conflict Curve’ was developed by Michael S. Lund in his book Preventing violent conflicts, A Strategy for preventive diplomacy (US Institute for Peace Press 1996). It describes the steps and stages usually involved in the escalation of conflict and those required for de-escalation. While originally framed in the context of global tensions, the principles offered can be scaled down for use in organisational and personal conflicts.
Inverting the curve
The conflict curve used a bell-shaped curve, which placed war, the most violent expression of conflict, at the top of the curve. My take on this, however, was to see war as a state we descend into, with peace being the state we aspire to rise to. Consequently, I have used a good deal of license by inverting the Conflict Curve to shift emphasis from escalation and de-escalation of conflict to the de-escalation and escalation of peace. Hence, the Peace Curve.
An alternative presentation of the Peace Curve appears in the header image above, with emphasis on the opportunity to de-escalate conflict at any point along the curve.
The use of graded peace-making measures or treatments characterises the adjacent conflict states as part of a continuum of pathological behaviours. The more serious the conflict, the more dramatic the diplomatic treatment that would be required to interrupt or reverse escalation.
The diplomatic measures suggested in the ‘Treating for Peace’ chart (i.e. the inverted Conflict Curve) can be adapted for use at the personal, group, or organisational level in any setting.
Most nonprofits use a range of conflict resolution, deliberative, and negotiation measures, and these can vary widely in their formality and resource impact.
Decision-making frameworks, rules of debate (standing orders), and dispute or grievance policies and procedures are common. The engagement of mediators or conciliation advisors is less so. Part 1 in this series also suggested some additional measures that could be used when dealing with value conflicts in governance or operational activities.
Further to the thought that violent conflict occupies the lower portion of the curve, the similarity to the low emotional states observed in the middle stages of the grief and change curves led to the creation of the four views chart below.
The fourth curve in this chart echoes the sentiment expressed previously about models rarely being a true reflection of experience. Models tend to smooth out loops, relapses, backsliding, blindsiding, and other unplanned developments. Once again, the George Box quote applies – “All models are wrong, but some are useful“.
This chart also hopes to nudge readers to recognise that reflective practice is required for peacemaking to come into play.